He left the cold and comforts of Denmark two months ago to walk and work in the hot sands of places such as Chikhwawa. Today, Anders Bue Bitsch, a volunteer with DanChurchAid, has no regrets that he made it into Malawi.
On this sunny Thursday in Chiringa, the peaceful afternoon suddenly turns glum as a fiery dark mass of clouds sweeps across the gigantic Phalombe mountain range in southern Malawi.
In no time, its silhouette envelopes the surrounding villages, covering them in partial darkness. Lightning flashes light up the sky, followed by bellowing thunder which sends local farmers working in their fields scampering for shelter.
As the commotion continues, the fiery clouds disintegrate into precious rain drops, bringing relief to the local farmers whose crops were starting to wither due to a dry spell that had lasted for a month.
Amid the jubilation, one young man, Anders Bue Bitsch, 22, has mixed feelings. He is happy that the rains are finally here, but at the same time feels for his Ã¢â‚¬ËœfamilyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in Chikhwawa where the rains disappeared soon after they had planted early in December.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The rains are finally here, but the crops are in bad shape,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Anders, a youth volunteer with DanChurchAid (DCA) based at Chiringa Health Centre in Phalombe.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In Denmark, we have rain almost every week, but it has been some time since we had some here, which is not good for farming.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Before going to Phalombe, Anders was based in Chikhwawa where he proved himself a capable farmer while staying with the Mphando family.
As part of the Ã¢â‚¬ËœfamilyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, he was supposed, like any child in the household, to get up at 4am daily to work in the field.
With the blistering Chikhwawa heat, many thought he would succumb to the high temperatures, but to the surprise of the community, the young man persevered to become one of the celebrated farmers in the village.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wanted to work hard like anybody else. I pushed myself hard until I had blisters on my hands. I did this because I wanted to learn about the pain and difficulties people undergo when they are working this hard in the fields using their bare hands,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Anders, who is always wearing a shy smile.
He confesses that the first days were very hard for him, especially when it came to waking up early in the morning, coupled with the extreme heat.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I had to drink a lot of water and was a bit tired every day after coming from the field. However, I got used and learnt to be humble and stay in the shed when the sun was at its blazing best,Ã¢â‚¬Â he quips.
AndersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ exploits in Chikhwawa won him many hearts and the greater number being of young women.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After seeing how I was working in the field, I was told that some girls wanted me to marry them, but I told them I had a girlfriend back home in Denmark,Ã¢â‚¬Â says the young man with a loud laugh.
The bemused community would come and watch him work in the fields. To them, it was Ã¢â‚¬Å“strange for a white guy to be working in the field.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say that I worked that hard comparing to the women I saw in Chikhwawa. I was very impressed by the way the women work; they are really strong. After coming from the fields, they go home to do other chores like fetching water and do the cooking, but never complain,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says.
Anders, who is on a two-month volunteer programme with DanChurchAid, is now based at Chiringa, a far more developed area compared to the village in Chikhwawa.
But he still cherishes his stay in Chikhwawa: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was touched about how happy my host family was despite having little to eat and little possessions to their effect. Also, the people in the community were always ready to help one another and had something extra to give when they had so little,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says.
Before coming to Malawi, Anders worked as a fireman and was also a sergeant in the Royal Danish Navy, a background he says has helped him to be a survivor even in the toughest of environments.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I worked in the army for two years and this taught me to be resilient and, above all, to be a leader,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“However, I had to quit because I felt that my future lies in disaster management. Before I started a course in that field, I thought I should first experience the hardships people experience to better appreciate the challenges.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He says he is lucky to have been in Malawi: Ã¢â‚¬Å“My sister was envious when I told her that I will be going to Malawi as a volunteer for DanChurchAid. If given a chance, she would have jumped at the opportunity to come here. Her tip to me when I was leaving was that I would meet the nicest people in the world.Ã¢â‚¬Â
After staying in Malawi for two months, Anders says he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember any lows in his stay in the country despite being bitten by a scorpion in Phalombe, an incident which he considers to be Ã¢â‚¬Å“minor and not of any importance.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I will miss how friendly the people of Malawi are and how much they work and are willing to go an extra mile to help each other. I hope that one day I will come back and contribute more to help the people of this country achieve their dreams,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Anders.
The DCA volunteer programme has attracted the young and senior citizens from Denmark. So far, the country office has hosted 14 youth volunteers and 3 senior volunteers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“These volunteers play a crucial role in linking Malawi and Denmark. They are ambassadors seeing the realities of development work on the ground. They will also be involved in a popular Foundation Parish Collection Campaign in March 2012 to fundraise for the work of DanChurchAid in Malawi,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Francis Botha, relations officer for DanChurchAid, who is in charge of volunteer placements in Malawi.